Now the real fun begins.

Northland's Jack Goodhue has made the first All Blacks' squad of 2018 on the back of industrious performances for the defending champion Crusaders but the real battle starts here.

With four quality midfielders seemingly ahead of the Kawakawa centre - Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown - the odds are stacked on the wrong side of the ledger.

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Despite their injury battles, Crotty and Williams will, in all likelihood, be the midfield combination that walks on to Eden Park for the opening game of the year.

It would take a dramatic U-turn of form or more injuries to oust either of these two over the next 18 months in the lead up to the zenith of rugby - the World Cup.

Despite this there is an avenue for Goodhue to pencil himself in for the next couple of years, though it isn't a given.

Anton Lienert-Brown has impressed for both the All Blacks and the Chiefs over the past couple of years with his attacking nous and strength on defence. But out of the four incumbents, his spot is the most precarious.

Anton Lienert-Brown has been a strong fixture in the All Blacks team but will be under pressure with the emergence of Jack Goodhue. PHOTO/PHOTOSPORT.NZ
Anton Lienert-Brown has been a strong fixture in the All Blacks team but will be under pressure with the emergence of Jack Goodhue. PHOTO/PHOTOSPORT.NZ

Laumape offers something neither Goodhue nor Lienert-Brown can provide - brute strength.

Like a polished early Ma'a Nonu, Laumape can simply run over his defensive match-up with consummate ease. Should he develop a good distribution game, SBW may start looking over his shoulder nervously.

So really it's Goodhue against Lienert-Brown.

Goodhue has all the skills the All Blacks have loved in a centre. He works hard, makes all of his tackles and has great vision - possibly Conrad Smith's most underrated quality.


His leg drive has been on show this year too. His round six effort driving through Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman and No 8 Tim Agaba from close range showed pure grit and determination.

But Lienert-Brown has proven his chops on the international stage and history shows that it's harder to get dropped by the All Blacks than selected.

Both bring fairly similar games to the table with their versatility, which makes the choice a real coin toss.

Goodhue's midfield rivals know first hand how physical he can be - just ask Sonny Bill Williams.

Williams is still feeling the after-effects from their midfield clash.

"He's [Goodhue] awesome - my ribs and that are still a bit sore from his shoulders!" he said.

"He's a great talent and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do, not just in this environment, but in the future as well."

The midfield tussle will be the most intriguing battle of the next 18 months and with Goodhue likely to get his chance to press his claims on the field, there may be a change on the cards.

Raw talent

Shannon Frizell's meteoric rise to All Blacks selection carries on a tradition under Steve Hansen's tenure of picking athletes who aren't necessarily the finished product on the field.

The 22-year-old with just three Super Rugby starts with the Highlanders to his name was a true bolter in the squad and joins Vaea Fifita in the athletic blindside flanker stakes.

Both Fifita and Frizell are phenomenal athletic prospects much like Victor Vito and Ardie Savea were.

When you compare their body of work to the likes of Jordan Taufua and Brad Shields, their on-field exploits don't measure up.

Hansen has far more tendency to pick the transcendent athlete over the rounded player.

He backs himself and his fellow coaches to teach the athlete to play rather than teach the player to be an athlete.

You can't question Hansen's success but it is easy to see why Shields left for England given he was always up against it with his lack of athleticism compared to Frizell and Fifita.

This selection is clearly one for the future and it will be interesting to see if he can develop into a defining player.